Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 1

CHAPTER I


THE GUN CLUB


During the War of the Rebellion, a new and influential club was
established in the city of Baltimore in the State of Maryland.
It is well known with what energy the taste for military matters
became developed among that nation of ship-owners, shopkeepers,
and mechanics. Simple tradesmen jumped their counters to become
extemporized captains, colonels, and generals, without having
ever passed the School of Instruction at West Point;
nevertheless; they quickly rivaled their compeers of the old
continent, and, like them, carried off victories by dint of
lavish expenditure in ammunition, money, and men.

But the point in which the Americans singularly distanced the
Europeans was in the science of gunnery. Not, indeed, that
their weapons retained a higher degree of perfection than
theirs, but that they exhibited unheard-of dimensions, and
consequently attained hitherto unheard-of ranges. In point of
grazing, plunging, oblique, or enfilading, or point-blank
firing, the English, French, and Prussians have nothing to
learn; but their cannon, howitzers, and mortars are mere
pocket-pistols compared with the formidable engines of the
American artillery.

This fact need surprise no one. The Yankees, the first
mechanicians in the world, are engineers-- just as the Italians
are musicians and the Germans metaphysicians-- by right of birth.
Nothing is more natural, therefore, than to perceive them
applying their audacious ingenuity to the science of gunnery.
Witness the marvels of Parrott, Dahlgren, and Rodman.
The Armstrong, Palliser, and Beaulieu guns were compelled to bow
before their transatlantic rivals.

Now when an American has an idea, he directly seeks a second
American to share it. If there be three, they elect a president
and two secretaries. Given four, they name a keeper of records,
and the office is ready for work; five, they convene a general
meeting, and the club is fully constituted. So things were
managed in Baltimore. The inventor of a new cannon associated
himself with the caster and the borer. Thus was formed the
nucleus of the "Gun Club." In a single month after its formation
it numbered 1,833 effective members and 30,565 corresponding members.

One condition was imposed as a _sine qua non_ upon every
candidate for admission into the association, and that was the
condition of having designed, or (more or less) perfected a
cannon; or, in default of a cannon, at least a firearm of
some description. It may, however, be mentioned that mere
inventors of revolvers, fire-shooting carbines, and similar
small arms, met with little consideration. Artillerists always
commanded the chief place of favor.

The estimation in which these gentlemen were held, according to
one of the most scientific exponents of the Gun Club, was
"proportional to the masses of their guns, and in the direct
ratio of the square of the distances attained by their projectiles."

The Gun Club once founded, it is easy to conceive the result of
the inventive genius of the Americans. Their military weapons
attained colossal proportions, and their projectiles, exceeding
the prescribed limits, unfortunately occasionally cut in two
some unoffending pedestrians. These inventions, in fact, left
far in the rear the timid instruments of European artillery.

It is but fair to add that these Yankees, brave as they have
ever proved themselves to be, did not confine themselves to
theories and formulae, but that they paid heavily, _in propria
persona_, for their inventions. Among them were to be counted
officers of all ranks, from lieutenants to generals; military
men of every age, from those who were just making their _debut_
in the profession of arms up to those who had grown old in the
gun-carriage. Many had found their rest on the field of battle
whose names figured in the "Book of Honor" of the Gun Club; and
of those who made good their return the greater proportion bore
the marks of their indisputable valor. Crutches, wooden legs,
artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc jaws, silver craniums,
platinum noses, were all to be found in the collection; and it
was calculated by the great statistician Pitcairn that throughout
the Gun Club there was not quite one arm between four persons
and two legs between six.

Nevertheless, these valiant artillerists took no particular
account of these little facts, and felt justly proud when the
despatches of a battle returned the number of victims at
ten-fold the quantity of projectiles expended.

One day, however-- sad and melancholy day!-- peace was signed
between the survivors of the war; the thunder of the guns
gradually ceased, the mortars were silent, the howitzers were
muzzled for an indefinite period, the cannon, with muzzles
depressed, were returned into the arsenal, the shot were
repiled, all bloody reminiscences were effaced; the
cotton-plants grew luxuriantly in the well-manured fields, all
mourning garments were laid aside, together with grief; and the
Gun Club was relegated to profound inactivity.

Some few of the more advanced and inveterate theorists set
themselves again to work upon calculations regarding the laws
of projectiles. They reverted invariably to gigantic shells
and howitzers of unparalleled caliber. Still in default of
practical experience what was the value of mere theories?
Consequently, the clubrooms became deserted, the servants dozed
in the antechambers, the newspapers grew mouldy on the tables,
sounds of snoring came from dark corners, and the members of the
Gun Club, erstwhile so noisy in their seances, were reduced to
silence by this disastrous peace and gave themselves up wholly
to dreams of a Platonic kind of artillery.

"This is horrible!" said Tom Hunter one evening, while rapidly
carbonizing his wooden legs in the fireplace of the
smoking-room; "nothing to do! nothing to look forward to! what
a loathsome existence! When again shall the guns arouse us in
the morning with their delightful reports?"

"Those days are gone by," said jolly Bilsby, trying to extend
his missing arms. "It was delightful once upon a time!
One invented a gun, and hardly was it cast, when one hastened
to try it in the face of the enemy! Then one returned to camp
with a word of encouragement from Sherman or a friendly shake
of the hand from McClellan. But now the generals are gone
back to their counters; and in place of projectiles, they
despatch bales of cotton. By Jove, the future of gunnery in
America is lost!"

"Ay! and no war in prospect!" continued the famous James T.
Maston, scratching with his steel hook his gutta-percha cranium.
"Not a cloud on the horizon! and that too at such a critical
period in the progress of the science of artillery! Yes, gentlemen!
I who address you have myself this very morning perfected a
model (plan, section, elevation, etc.) of a mortar destined to
change all the conditions of warfare!"

"No! is it possible?" replied Tom Hunter, his thoughts reverting
involuntarily to a former invention of the Hon. J. T. Maston, by
which, at its first trial, he had succeeded in killing three
hundred and thirty-seven people.

"Fact!" replied he. "Still, what is the use of so many studies
worked out, so many difficulties vanquished? It's mere waste
of time! The New World seems to have made up its mind to live in
peace; and our bellicose _Tribune_ predicts some approaching
catastrophes arising out of this scandalous increase of population."

"Nevertheless," replied Colonel Blomsberry, "they are always
struggling in Europe to maintain the principle of nationalities."

"Well?"

"Well, there might be some field for enterprise down there; and
if they would accept our services----"

"What are you dreaming of?" screamed Bilsby; "work at gunnery
for the benefit of foreigners?"

"That would be better than doing nothing here," returned the colonel.

"Quite so," said J. T. Matson; "but still we need not dream of
that expedient."

"And why not?" demanded the colonel.

"Because their ideas of progress in the Old World are contrary
to our American habits of thought. Those fellows believe that
one can't become a general without having served first as an
ensign; which is as much as to say that one can't point a gun
without having first cast it oneself!"

"Ridiculous!" replied Tom Hunter, whittling with his bowie-knife
the arms of his easy chair; "but if that be the case there, all
that is left for us is to plant tobacco and distill whale-oil."

"What!" roared J. T. Maston, "shall we not employ these
remaining years of our life in perfecting firearms? Shall there
never be a fresh opportunity of trying the ranges of projectiles?
Shall the air never again be lighted with the glare of our guns?
No international difficulty ever arise to enable us to declare
war against some transatlantic power? Shall not the French sink
one of our steamers, or the English, in defiance of the rights
of nations, hang a few of our countrymen?"

"No such luck," replied Colonel Blomsberry; "nothing of the kind
is likely to happen; and even if it did, we should not profit by it.
American susceptibility is fast declining, and we are all going
to the dogs."

"It is too true," replied J. T. Maston, with fresh violence;
"there are a thousand grounds for fighting, and yet we don't fight.
We save up our arms and legs for the benefit of nations who don't
know what to do with them! But stop-- without going out of one's
way to find a cause for war-- did not North America once belong
to the English?"

"Undoubtedly," replied Tom Hunter, stamping his crutch with fury.

"Well, then," replied J. T. Maston, "why should not England in
her turn belong to the Americans?"

"It would be but just and fair," returned Colonel Blomsberry.

"Go and propose it to the President of the United States," cried
J. T. Maston, "and see how he will receive you."

"Bah!" growled Bilsby between the four teeth which the war had
left him; "that will never do!"

"By Jove!" cried J. T. Maston, "he mustn't count on my vote at
the next election!"

"Nor on ours," replied unanimously all the bellicose invalids.

"Meanwhile," replied J. T. Maston, "allow me to say that, if I
cannot get an opportunity to try my new mortars on a real field
of battle, I shall say good-by to the members of the Gun Club,
and go and bury myself in the prairies of Arkansas!"

"In that case we will accompany you," cried the others.

Matters were in this unfortunate condition, and the club was
threatened with approaching dissolution, when an unexpected
circumstance occurred to prevent so deplorable a catastrophe.

On the morrow after this conversation every member of the
association received a sealed circular couched in the
following terms:


BALTIMORE, October 3.
The president of the Gun Club has the honor to inform his colleagues
that, at the meeting of the 5th instant, he will bring before
them a communication of an extremely interesting nature. He requests,
therefore, that they will make it convenient to attend in
accordance with the present invitation. Very cordially,
IMPEY BARBICANE, P.G.C.


Jules Verne

Sorry, no summary available yet.